Grow Your Own
Fresh herbs and spices add flavor, aroma and visual appeal to all manner of dishes. Nutrition science shows that fresh, aromatic culinary herbs—such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, savory and others—play a bigger role in the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet than we previously realized. They don’t add appreciable calories to a given dish, but they’re packed with phytonutrients; plant compounds that add flavor and aroma while also providing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits.
Last month, European scientists published new research based on archeological excavations in Denmark and Germany. They discovered pottery shards coated with the residue of foods that were cooked in clay vessels about 7,000 years ago. The food contained traces of meat and fish, as expected. But the vessels also contained evidence that ancient Europeans cooked with mustard garlic.
The plant added no calories to the diet, the scientists noted, so it could only have been used to add flavor. This sounds like common sense. But it’s the earliest evidence that at the time of the transition from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to agriculture, bands of hunter-gatherers were interested in spicing up their food, regardless of whether it added any calories to the diet. I suspect the ancient Europeans knew what their modern descendants have never forgotten: Fresh herbs and spices add spark and interest to food.
Saul H, Madella M, Fischer A, Glykou A, Hartz S, et al. (2013) Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070583
Vanzani P, Rossetto M, De Marco V, Sacchetti LE, Paoletti MG, Rigo A. Wild Mediterranean plants as traditional food: a valuable source of antioxidants. J Food Sci. 2011 Jan-Feb;76(1):C46-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01949.x.